Fighting the staff retention war

Employers have many tools at their disposal to help them attract and hold on to talent

It is well documented that a good work-life balance is essential. Strong family and personal relationships encourage performance at work, but this goes further than just allowing the odd day working from home; employers can think far more broadly. For example, consider employing people on a permanent basis but only requiring them to work for 10 months out of 12.

This works well in a business that may be cyclical in nature, for example, but it can work in other organisations too, enabling employees to take time out to travel the world or undertake life-affirming projects, safe in the knowledge they have a job waiting for them when they return. The employer ends up with more ‘rounded’ and engaged employees. Flexibility can be a particularly useful tool when looking to recruit and retain younger members of staff just leaving higher education, or to hold on to older workers. Employees may not be either ready or interested in working for the full year, but an organisation that can work in this way stands a good chance of retaining talent at both ends of the spectrum and possibly those in between. 

Implementing a working arrangement such as this raises some challenging points around the employment relationship. Continuity of employment is preserved and continues so statutory rights are accrued and preserved. Contractual rights such as annual leave, bonus eligibility, incentive awards and sickness entitlement need to be considered carefully. But if an employer can work its way through this maze then it will have a good chance of attracting and then retaining the talent it needs to be successful. 

A May 2016 report in Harvard Business Review is particularly enlightening on millennials’ attitudes to work. Nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of those surveyed said they were ‘either not engaged or actively disengaged at work’. Apparently, ‘ping pong tables and free beer’ do not tip the balance. Rather it seems the opportunity to learn and grow as well as to be managed well – either by a manager or the management of the business generally – is a major motivating factor and a real weapon in the war of retention.

This throws a spotlight on management and training managers to do a good job at managing. Often managers find themselves managing people because they are good at their job – not because they are good with people. Employers need to recognise this and invest in training.

If an organisation can improve the quality of its management, there is more of a chance that it will become aware of what its employees want and what makes them tick. It also needs to ensure that employees have opportunities for career progression and promotion, and that it understands the expectations employees have and how to manage them. In this way the employee is less likely to move on and the business benefits from making the most of its talent.      

Jonathan Maude is a partner at Vedder Price and chair of its UK/EU employment law committee